For the past year, I’ve been trying to get hold of Ambarish Mitra, the CEO of Blippar to find out a bit about his journey towards starting Blippar. I’m sure you've probably heard of Blippar right? Or seen Justin Bieber and Richard Branson go on about the app. Anyway, sometime last week I think Rish finally realised I wouldn’t let him go until I got him on YHP, so we finally sealed down the interview and this is what we talked about.
Hi Rish, Thanks for doing this. How are you doing today?
I’m very well, thank you.
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
I have been in technology business through out my 15-year career. I have never fully followed conventional wisdom in existing ways of doing business and tried to bring my own ideas in industries I have worked in with help of technology. I tried to impact and bring change in verticals like government, portals, travel, retail, insurance and now advertising.
Tell me how you initially got into business?
I grew up in India and did my higher studies in Britain. Grew up admiring heroes like Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Jeffery Bezos and many more.
Portals were a big thing when I was a teenager and it was the growth stage of the Internet and on the edge of becoming mainstream medium. At the age of 19 I did my first tech start up (womeninfoline.com – portal empowering women of India) which had an IPO in 2000.
How did the idea for Blippar come about?
My co-founder Omar Tayeb and myself were hanging out in a pub in Surrey where we were kidding about replacing the queens face on a £20 banknote with mine - I know totally pointless. Omar made the joke come true few weeks later. We later realised if we can make a bank note come to life, we can do it with every image in the world.
Tell me about the early days, what was the hardest part of starting the business?
The business became a proper business with three more key people involved in shaping blippar in co-founders Steve Spencer, Jessica Butcher and Opportunities Director Stephen Shaw. The challenges we had were two fold. Biggest was how do we technically make this a scalable business model as we had invented something totally new. Secondly was convincing worlds biggest brands that this technology will revolutionise traditional advertising and help them connect better with their consumers.
What is Blippar? And what are you trying to solve with it?
Blippar is an image recognition app/platform allowing brands to covert all its press ads, product packaging, outdoor ads into wide range of digital content from communications, gaming, research/collaboration, promotions/incentives, entertainment, information and education, social engagement and many more. This content can be sequenced, measured and targeted. In effect it offers brand marketers the opportunity to add many more layers to their brand to create deeper engagement and relationships.
How have you been able to fund it?
We self funded the business for the first 6 months and then received seed funding from Qualcomm.
What sorts of advice do you having for entrepreneurs looking to raise money for their startups?
Few points of advice to fellow entrepreneurs:
Its important to raise money from a VC you get along with and can spend time with. The quality of the relationship is key here.
Don’t worry too much about valuation. It’s better to have a quality VC that you think would be great to work with than it is to get a high valuation with someone you are not too comfortable with.
Having a prototype helps as its becoming increasingly difficult to raise money just off the business plan and no real product.
About the first few months, how excited were you, tell us about how those months felt, what happened?
Blippar has been exciting journey for everybody in the company as it’s been a journey of overcoming of challenges of several dimensions. Every week we were building new features and solving new client problems.
How did you initially get traction?
We launched the product with few very large brands like Cadburys, Samsung, Tesco, Heinz etc. and that generated sufficient buzz to spread the word to brand marketers.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
We have hired smart and passionate people in Blippar who believe in the business as much as I do. Raising funds in right time from the right investor. Keeping intact the culture of strong R&D and anything is possible has helped us gain competitive advantage. And, finally taking it international inside first 12 months.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
Building a product being used by millions and brands putting the Blippar ‘b’ on all their advertising collateral gives me great satisfaction and stimulus to do more.
What should we be expecting from yourself and Blippar team for 2013?
Blippar being available on operating systems beyond iOS and Android. You’ll see a stronger growth in US market and more matured usage of the platform in Britain.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
1. Stay cool, enjoy the journey, it makes the end goal more realistic if the journey is fun.
2. Your team is everything; you are nothing without your team.
3. Prototype your ideas quickly and don’t be afraid of failing, as each start-up makes you more prepared for the next one.
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